I am a knowledge mobilisation research fellow

In my first blog post I described how I came to be an equality and diversity manager in the NHS and now I’m going to tell you why I decided to become a knowledge mobilisation research fellow.  I’m aiming to reflect on what I learn during my fellowship in this blog and I hope if you want to reduce institutional racism, particularly in the NHS, that you’ll come along with me on a journey, or the bits of the journey you find interesting anyway, to find out how knowledge mobilisation can help with this.

So a few years back, I was looking for a way to make the equality and diversity work I was doing in NHS commissioning more effective, so that I was actually making a difference.  So that my work contributed to increased access to health services, better experience of using those services and better health outcomes for black and minority ethnic people and communities, and for other groups of people who experience discrimination.

By chance (well, it was a piece of work a colleague was going to do but by the time it started we’d been through a restructure and he had left the organisation) I got involved in the Evidence and Ethnicity in Commissioning (EEiC) research project.  I was one of three co-researchers working in three different NHS commissioning organisations in Yorkshire who linked up with researchers working in Yorkshire universities to find out how people involved in NHS commissioning were making use of evidence about ethnicity to improve services.

Despite some initial misgivings along the lines of “I don’t understand this academic stuff and I really don’t have time for it when it won’t help me do my job better,” being involved in this research turned out to be a great experience for me.  I became part of a team of people who all want to work out how to reduce ethnic health inequalities.  It turned out that whether we were employed by the NHS in equality and diversity roles, in public health or in research jobs or whether we worked in universities leading and carrying out research projects we shared a sense of frustration at how our work was not influencing change in policy or practice.

I began to develop some new skills – carrying out qualitative interviews and analysing the data that comes from them. I got to listen to senior figures in the NHS locally and nationally sharing their views and experiences of how evidence is used in commissioning and in particular evidence about health inequalities linked to ethnicity.  I got the chance to step back, see the big picture and reflect on what exactly was making my job so hard.  Most importantly for me, it left me even more confident in my view that I needed do my job differently if I wanted to get results.

If you’re interested, we wrote two briefing papers summarising what we found out.  Briefing paper one describes why race equality should be at the heart of healthcare commissioning and briefing paper two describes steps that can be taken at an operational level to improve healthcare for black and ethnic minority communities.

So, when the research funding and therefore the project ended, I’d learnt a lot. I wanted to be able to learn more and use that learning to change the way we approach equality and diversity in the NHS.  And then Sarah Salway who works at Sheffield University and led the EEiC project told me about the chance to apply for a Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship.

I applied and was successful. Here are some of the reasons why I decided to apply.

  • Knowledge Mobilisation is sometimes called “Knowledge to Action” and it’s about making change happen. One important thing I learnt from being part of the EEiC research team is that making sure that policy and practice in the NHS (and indeed in many institutions) is based on sound evidence is difficult and often doesn’t happen. So some of the barriers to making progress on race equality in the NHS are general difficulties in moving from evidence of any problem to making improvements that will solve that problem.
  • Doing research when you’re not employed full time as a researcher gives you the opportunity to get off the hamster wheel of your day job and work out how to do things better.
  • As I began reading about knowledge mobilisation, I discovered that successful knowledge mobilisers are boundary spanners and realised that boundary spanning is what I’d been doing in my most successful pieces of equality and diversity work. Forming partnerships between healthcare providers, commissioners and users.  Leading project teams that encouraged colleagues to work with people they wouldn’t normally.  Bridging the gap between academics and practitioners.
  • I want to learn more about what works and then share that learning. I remember when I was fairly new in the NHS and in response to the deputy chief executive asking me how I was getting on, I told her that I was making it up as I went along. This was completely true but as soon as I said it I was kicking myself for being too frank.  To my surprise, and relief, she smiled and said “You keep on doing just that.” Of course there is a freedom to develop your own practice with this approach.  But it also means that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  And the trouble with everyone making it up as we go along is that opportunities for learning are lost and professional practice does not improve.

Now that I am a knowledge mobilisation research fellow, NIHR pay 0.7 of my salary to release me for three and half days a week to do some knowledge mobilisation research, to do some knowledge mobilisation work and to take up learning and development opportunities about how to do this well.

The latest round of these fellowships will open for applications on 20th July 2016.  If you’re interested, details are available here.

During my fellowship I am going to try out and develop some knowledge mobilisation tools that were designed at the end of the EEiC project.  They will, I hope, help us work out what works and provide us with some better ways of working that will make sure that knowledge about health and ethnicity leads to action that will improve services and reduce inequalities.

More on the process of knowledge mobilisation and the tools in my next blog post.